28 Utterly Unforgettable Oscars Images

The Academy Awards have been celebratory and, at times, shocking. Here's a look back on some of the most enduring moments from Hollywood's biggest night

01 of 28

2022: Will Smith smacks Chris Rock

will smith
Neilson Barnard/Getty

No one could have ever expected the introduction to the Best Documentary Feature award would provoke one of the most disorienting moments in Academy Awards history.

When presenter Chris Rock offered an unscripted joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's bald hairstyle (a choice she made as a result of her struggle with the hair loss-inducing autoimmune disorder alopecia), her husband, Best Actor frontrunner Will Smith, walked onto the stage and struck Rock with an open palm. Rock, along with the audience in the Dolby Theatre and around the globe, was stunned. He presented the Oscar, and the show carried on, including Will's win for his performance in 2021's King Richard.

The next day, Will apologized for the altercation.

"Violence in all of its forms is poisonous and destructive," he acknowledged. "My behavior ... was unacceptable and inexcusable."

Will continued, "I would like to publicly apologize to you, Chris. I was out of line, and I was wrong. I am embarrassed, and my actions were not indicative of the man I want to be."

Nearly two weeks later, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences formally banned the actor from attending any Academy events, including the Oscars, for 10 years.

Later, in November 2022, during an appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Will spoke about the moment, admitting that he "lost it" while suggesting that there are "many nuances and complexities to it."

"I guess what I would say, you just never know what somebody's going through," he said before adding, "And I was going through something that night. Not that that justifies my behavior at all."

02 of 28

2020: Bong Joon Ho wins four Oscars

Bong Joon-ho
Jennifer Graylock/PA Images/Getty

Bong Joon Ho was feeling the love at the 92nd Academy Awards, where he took home four Oscars. The Korean auteur closed out the night by making history as his movie Parasite (2019) became the first non-English-language feature film to be named Best Picture.

Earlier in the evening, the filmmaker also won Best Original Screenplay (shared with Han Jin-won), Best International Feature Film and Best Director. All of this, mind you, was in the first year South Korea had ever received an Oscar nomination — more specifically, six of them

03 of 28

2019: Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper perform intimate duet

LADY GAGA, BRADLEY COOPER
Ed Herrera/Getty

Ain't it hard keeping it so hardcore? Not for these two.

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga shared a loving look and a heart-fluttering embrace at the end of their hotly anticipated duet of "Shallow." The song had already swept awards season leading up to its victory in the Best Original Song category, and the soundtrack for A Star Is Born (2018) would continuing winning accolades into 2020.

04 of 28

2017: 'La La Land' is mistakenly named Best Picture

Audience reacts to "Moonlight"
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Shock swept the auditorium — and was written all over the faces of attendees — when La La Land (2017) producer Jordan Horowitz had to interrupt the film's Best Picture victory speech to announce the musical hadn't actually won the night's top prize.

Just moments before, there had been a mix-up with the envelopes that confused presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, who called out La La Land instead of the rightful winner: Moonlight (2017). Horowitz had to assure the audience he was being completely serious and even showed the Best Picture card to the camera as he beckoned the Moonlight team up to the stage. Attendees rose to their feet in support of the actual victors, with director Barry Jenkins (who shared the Best Adapted Screenplay award with Tarell Alvin McCraney earlier in the night) joking, "Very clearly, even in my dreams, this could not be true. But to hell with dreams because this is true."

05 of 28

2014: Ellen DeGeneres takes iconic selfie

86th Annual Academy Awards
Ellen DeGeneres/Twitter/Getty

A few months after the Oxford English Dictionary anointed "selfie" as its 2013 Word of the Year, Ellen DeGeneres struck Oscars gold — and gave the show a signature viral moment — by pulling off the most star-studded selfie of all time, including Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Lupita Nyong'o, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Meryl Streep, among others.

It was an instant smash on social media, breaking the record for the most retweeted post ever. That record was eventually eclipsed three years later by a teen hungry for chicken nuggets, but, hey, the party sure was fun while it lasted.

06 of 28

2013: Jennifer Lawrence falls onstage

Jennifer Lawrence
Kevin Winter/Getty

Jennifer Lawrence had an impressive run of four Oscar nods in six years from 2011–16, but it's safe to say she'll never forget her first "trip" to the podium to collect the Best Actress prize for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook (2012).

07 of 28

2010: Kathryn Bigelow makes history

Kathryn Bigelow onstage during the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, California
Michael Caulfield/WireImage

At the 82nd Academy Awards, Kathryn Bigelow broke new ground by becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Picture for her 2008 film The Hurt Locker.

Three years later, Bigelow would go on to be nominated for Best Picture for 2012's Zero Dark Thirty.

08 of 28

2009: Heath Ledger posthumously wins an Oscar

Heath Ledger appears on screen in his role as the Joker in "The Dark Knight", winning Best Supporting Actor at the 81st Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on February 22, 2009
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty

Heath Ledger's shocking death in January 2008 came six months before one of his final films, The Dark Knight (2008), was released. His extraordinary turn as Batman's nemesis, the Joker, in the blockbuster was critically acclaimed.

At the 81st Academy Awards, Ledger was honored with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, becoming only the second actor to win a posthumous Oscar after Peter Finch won Best Actor for 1976's Network. Ledger's mother, father and sister accepted the award on his behalf.

09 of 28

2002: Halle Berry makes history

Halle Berry
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Tears poured down Halle Berry's face when she made history as the first Black woman to win Best Actress. In an emotional speech, the Monster's Ball (2001) star dedicated her victory to the actresses who paved the way for her in Hollywood, including Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne and Diahann Carroll, as well as her friends and mentors Jada Pinkett, Angela Bassett, Vivica A. Fox and Oprah Winfrey.

10 of 28

2001: Björk stuns in swan dress

Bjork
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times/Getty

Love or loathe it, Björk's iconic swan dress was an egg-cellent conversation starter. She was the talk of the 74th Academy Awards before she had even entered the building!

11 of 28

2000: Angelina Jolie kisses brother James Haven on red carpet

Angelina Jolie and James Haven
Mediapunch/Shutterstock

Angelina Jolie already had tongues wagging for her Morticia Addams-esque ensemble at the 72nd Academy Awards, but she really sent the rumor mill into overdrive when she shared an exuberant smack on the lips with brother James Haven before she walked to the stage to accept her Best Supporting Actress trophy for Girl, Interrupted (1999).

12 of 28

1999: Whoopi Goldberg takes the stage as queen

Whoopi Goldberg
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Dame Judi Dench may have taken home that year's Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her eight-minute turn as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love (1998), but Whoopi Goldberg stole the show with her own bit of royal role-play.

13 of 28

1999, 1998 and 1997: Three winners deliver enthusiastic acceptance speeches

Roberto Benigni James Cameron Cuba Gooding Jr.
Eric Draper/AP/Shutterstock; TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty; Susan Sterner/AP/Shutterstock

The Academy Awards of the late '90s were especially thrilling thanks to the rapturous responses of three winners ...

When director and star Roberto Benigni won Best Foreign Language Film for the 1997 Italian dramedy Life Is Beautiful, he scaled the seats out of pure elation. Later, when he was named Best Actor, he told the audience he wanted to "kidnap everybody and lie down in the firmament making love to everybody."

The year before Benigni's wins, Titanic director James Cameron took home a trio of statuettes (the three-hour epic scored 11 Oscars out of 14 nods). In his Best Director speech, Cameron took a cue from the film's hero Jack Dawson and proclaimed himself "king of the world."

And, in 1997, Cuba Gooding Jr. delivered an emotional roller coaster of a speech when he won Best Supporting Actor for his performance in 1996's Jerry Maguire, declaring his love for seemingly everyone he could remember (and probably the majority of folks in his sight line). The best part was that he didn't really get going until the dreaded "wrap it up" music began. Gooding's enthusiasm only seemed to be fueled by the swelling score, and the audience ultimately rose for a standing ovation as the orchestra played on as the actor rhapsodized for nearly a full minute past his time limit.

14 of 28

1992: Jack Palance proves his physical fitness

Jack Palance
Craig Fujii/AP/Shutterstock

When Jack Palance claimed his Best Supporting Actor award, he left no doubt that, despite the fact he'd "reach[ed] a certain age plateau" at 70, he was still full of vim, vigor and vitality. And if the one-armed push-ups weren't iconic enough, he kicked off his speech by roasting his City Slickers (1991) costar, who happened to be emceeing that year's ceremony: "Billy Crystal? I crap bigger than him."

15 of 28

1989: Rob Lowe opens the Oscars with disastrous performance

Rob Lowe
Reed Saxon/AP

Not all unforgettable images are good ones! And Rob Lowe has made it pretty clear over the years that he wouldn't mind if our collective memories were erased of this infamous moment. The harebrained idea had him opening the show with an unfunnily revised rendition of "Proud Mary" alongside ... Snow White? (It can't have helped that Lowe wasn't considered an Oscar-caliber actor at the time, and Eileen Bowman, who played the Disney princess, wasn't exactly a household name.) Decades later, the Emmy and Golden Globe-nominated West Wing star admitted to Vanity Fair in 2018 that signing up for the daffy duet had been a "huge mistake."

16 of 28

1986: Cher takes fashion revenge in midriff-baring dress

Cher
Bettmann Archive/Getty

Two years before she won the Best Actress award for the 1987 film Moonstruck, Cher went full diva at the 58th Academy Awards. Many interpreted her slinky, midriff-baring Bob Mackie ensemble (complete with a spiky feather headdress!) to be a sartorial middle finger at the Academy for snubbing her performance in 1985's Mask. And when Cher took to the stage to present the Best Supporting Actor trophy, she deadpanned, "As you can see, I did receive my Academy booklet on how to dress like a serious actress."

17 of 28

1985: Sally Field delivers the most misquoted speech in Oscars' history

SALLY FIELD
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Sally Field's Best Actress acceptance speech for her role in 1984's Places in the Heart became a cultural punchline, with people busting out her famous "You like me! You really like me!" kicker for years to come. Of course, that's not what she actually said. (In reality, it was, "I haven't had an orthodox career, and I've wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn't feel it, but this time I feel it. And I can't deny the fact that you like me. Right now, you like me!") But when has the truth ever gotten in the way of a good meme?

18 of 28

1978: C-3PO from 'Star Wars' attends the Oscars

C-3PO
Saxon/IMAGES/Getty

A long time ago, in an auditorium not so far away, Star Wars (1977) cleaned up at the 50th Academy Awards. Though Best Picture was not among its six trophies (the most of any film that year), an appropriately dapper C-3PO was a nice little showcase for why the sci-fi smash took home an award for Best Costume Design.

19 of 28

1974: A streaker interrupts David Niven

Robert Opel
AP

Why Robert Opel ran across the stage au naturel remains uncertain all these years later. But host David Niven sealed Opel's place in entertainment history by making an off-the-cuff crack about the photographer's, ahem, "shortcomings" while introducing Elizabeth Taylor.

20 of 28

1973: Marlon Brando makes political statement

Sacheen Littlefeather
Sacheen Littlefeather. Bettmann Archive/Getty

Marlon Brando's decision to send Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to Hollywood's biggest night was divisive, to say the least. The Native American activist was tasked with explaining why The Godfather (1972) star was boycotting the event and rejecting his Best Actor trophy. Brando had even written a 15-page letter for Littlefeather to read onstage that articulated his objections to Native American representation on-screen and called attention to a protest in the town of Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

Howeevr, the Apache actress and advocate was told shortly before Brando's win was announced that she had 60 seconds before she would be removed from the stage. Despite her brief remarks being met with boos and hostility from actors, including Clint Eastwood, Littlefeather remained firm in her belief she had acquitted herself well.

"I was making a profound statement," she told VICE in 2016. "I did not use my fist, I did not use profanity, I used grace and elegance and quiet strength as my tools."

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1972: Charlie Chaplin receives longest standing ovation in Oscars' history

Charlie Chaplin
Bettmann Archive/Getty

When Charlie Chaplin made his way to the podium to accept an honorary Academy Award for his life's work in film, the audience rose for a 12-minute standing ovation — the longest in Oscars' history.

In 1973, Chaplin would finally take home a competitive trophy, winning Best Original Score for Limelight. (Though the film was released in 1952, it didn't play in Los Angeles theaters for another 20 years, making it Oscar-eligible; the Academy jumped at the chance to award Chaplin.)

22 of 28

1964: Sidney Poitier delivers powerful speech after historic win

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier. Gene Lester/Getty

Lilies of the Field's star Sidney Poitier became the first-ever Black Best Actor winner at the 36th Academy Awards. He kept his remarks brief: "Because it is a long journey to this moment, I am naturally indebted to countless numbers of people ... For all of them, all I can say is a very special thank you."

When Poitier died in January 2022 at 94, Denzel Washington — the second Black man to win the Best Actor Oscar 38 years later — spoke of Poitier's legacy in a statement shared with PEOPLE: "It was a privilege to call Sidney Poitier my friend. He was a gentle man and opened doors for all of us that had been closed for years."

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1958: Paul Newman stares lovingly at wife Joanne Woodward

Joanne Woodward
Bettmann Archive/Getty

Find somebody who looks at you like Paul Newman looked at his award-winning wife Joanne Woodward, who won Best Actress for 1957's The Three Faces of Eve. That is all.

24 of 28

1946: Joan Crawford receives her Oscar in bed

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford. Silver Screen Collection/Getty

It wasn't exactly an ill-begotten victory, but Joan Crawford claimed she'd contracted pneumonia ahead of the 18th Academy Awards. The story around town was that the Mildred Pierce (1945) star was trying to save face because she feared she wouldn't win. Instead, Crawford — serving up an Old Hollywood glam face after all — was named Best Actress and pulled the ultimate power move when her award was hand-delivered to her in bed.

25 of 28

1942: The Academy Awards reduces its glamour

Joan Fontaine Gary Cooper
Hulton Archive/Getty

The Academy has had to change things up a few times in its history, pushing back the 2021 honors amid the global COVID pandemic and delaying the 1981 ceremony by a day after the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan. But, in 1942, two and a half months after the United States officially entered World War II, the Academy kept the ceremony's date but opted to host a more austere show out of respect for the grim national mood. Gone were the extravagant evening gowns and tailor-made tuxes. Attendees even sacrificed post-dinner dancing during the wartime years, and the next three Academy Awards saw winners take home bronze-lacquered plaster statuettes rather than the traditional bronze-cast, gold-plated trophies.

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1940: Hattie McDaniel accepts historic Oscar win at segregated table

Hattie McDaniel Fay Bainter
Bettmann Archive/Getty

Hattie McDaniel had been excluded from her own film's premiere in September 1939, but less than six months later, the Gone with the Wind actress was invited to the 12th Academy Awards, where she would be named Best Supporting Actress. She was the first-ever Black actor to win an Oscar, however, the groundbreaking achievement was, of course, not without overt displays of racial prejudice — McDaniel was seated at a segregated table on the side of the room.

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1939: Shirley Temple presents Walt Disney with a special Oscar

Shirley Temple Walt Disney
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Walt Disney achieved the rare feat of having the Academy acknowledge 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at two consecutive ceremonies — first at the 10th annual Oscars, where it was nominated for Best Score, and the following year when he received an honorary Oscar for the film's innovation. Most adorably, the prize came with seven mini-Oscars, one for each of Disney's titular tiny miners. The pint-sized statuettes were presented to Disney by Shirley Temple, who herself had experience with small-scale Oscars as the inaugural winner of the since-discontinued Academy Juvenile Award in 1934.

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1931: Norma Shearer awards herself the Oscar

Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer. AP

With two of the six nominations in the Best Actress race at the 3rd Academy Awards, Norma Shearer had a strong chance of winning. So it's unclear why she was tapped to present that very award. Organizers averted potential (and entirely predictable) embarrassment for themselves and Shearer when she won for her turn in the 1930 film The Divorcee. From then on, nominees would never again be asked to pull double duty as presenters in their own category.

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